After a period working as a geologist Neil undertook postgraduate studies (M.App.Sc and PhD) in coastal geomorphology and became a research scientist with CSIRO (Australia's national research agency) Sustainable Ecosystems division. He developed the first coastal and marine information and analysis system for Australia, CAMRIS, and co-led a programme to understand possible futures for the nation under global change.
Later, as foundation research fellow, he played a leading role in establishing the Institute for Sustainable Futures (University of Technology, Sydney), before creating the large AUD 70 million multi-organisational Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Accounting. This was the world's first attempt to understand, and calculate, the role of the biosphere in the carbon cycle, for a whole continent. Neil's knowledge of global environmental change led to his appointment with the International Geosphere – Biosphere Programme (www.igbp.net) (a large international research programme and network that studies the phenomenon of Global Change) in Washington DC and later Stockholm. He then became deputy executive director of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change, in Bonn.
After returning to Australia to drive the development of new research areas at the Australian National University, Neil became director of FEAST, the organisation established by the European Union and the Australian government to promote and facilitate research collaboration in all fields. He was also National Contact Point for Australia's participation in the EU 6th Framework Programme for Research, and undertook further postgraduate work in Strategic Studies. Neil's transition from academia to advocacy came through his appointment to lead WWF's work across the Arctic region. Based in Oslo he developed the strategies and led teams that implement the largest polar conservation programme in the world, from Alaska through Canada and Fennoscandia, to Russia.
His work has highlighted the critical importance of the Arctic in global sustainability and he has played a catalysing role in renewing the arctic governance debate. Representing WWF, Neil became a sought after speaker and participant in high level international fora and is widely acknowledged as one of the leading experts in arctic issues.